The Zimbabwean police on Wednesday arrested two journalists and a manager of the Standard weekly newspaper in connection with a story the paper published after the arrest late last week of Minister of State Jameson Timba, newspaper sources said.
Editor Nevanji Madanhire and senior reporter Patience Nyangove were arrested early in the day and company representative Loud Ramakgapola was detained later over the newspaper's lead story in its latest edition which reported on Timba's arrest Friday for allegedly undermining the authority of President Robert Mugabe.
Timba is a senior aide to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, head of the main formation of the former opposition Movement for Democratic Change.
The Tsvangirai MDC formation told the Standard that it could not locate Timba and was concerned for his safety, fearing he might be tortured while in police custody. Timba was released on Sunday after a High Court judge ruled the arrest unconstitutional.
Standard newspaper attorney Linda Cook said Madanhire, Nyangove and Ramakgapola were charged with criminal defamation under Section 96 of the Criminal Code and with the publication of false statements prejudicial to the state which undermine public confidence in a law enforcement agent under Section 31.
Police said Nyangove falsely reported that Timba was arrested by police officers who included “the notorious" Superintendent Chrispen Makedenge. Authorities said that the police inspector in question was not present or involved in Timba's arrest.
Nyangove and Ramakgapola were released later Wednesday under orders to report to police Thursday morning. Madanhire was being held overnight, sources said.
Chief Executive Officer Raphael Khumalo of Alpha Media Holdings, publisher of the Standard, condemned the arrests. “It’s horrible, it should not happen,” he said.
“There is absolutely no justification whatsoever," Khumalo continued. "What makes it so sad is that the police are acting on a personal issue. Are they acting on behalf of the officer concerned or are they acting on a national cause? If the officer has been defamed, he should follow the laws and sue.”
Deputy Information Minister Murisi Zwizwai told VOA that he attributed the arrests to the influence of former information minister Jonathan Moyo, who he said had been calling for the prosecution of those in the media who are perceived to be tarnishing the president's image - and writing stories that might hinder Moyo's rise within ZANU-PF.
Zimbabwe Union of Journalists Secretary General Foster Dongozi said the union was "disappointed, but not surprised”.
The Daily News and Newsday published reports on Tuesday quoting sources who said a senior ZANU-PF politburo member had warned members of the state media to be on the lookout for the arrest of journalists in the private sector. He is said to have accused Timba of paying journalists to tarnish President Mugabe’s public image.
Zwizwai told VOA that officials should not be seeking to intimidate journalists.